Thursday, December 30, 2010

Salvation: The Guardian

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield..." (Ps. 84:11)

  After letting the impact of the last post settle in over the last two days, I have been contemplating a rather difficult and unsettling conclusion:

   The more I walk with God, the more I realise how little I really know or understand about Him.

   Why is this such a big issue? It follows from my foolishness in looking to impotent superheroes who never got off their comic book pages or animated series to come to my rescue when I needed them. I believe there is much to be said about my misplaced admiration of the celluloid and paper heroes concocted by man's imagination than the love, potency, and protective ability of the One to whom all power belongs. I've been infuriatingly slow to see the truth that's been staring me in the face all along:

   "El", The Powerful God, is the only One capable of being 
The Guardian that I have been searching for.

   I wonder why it has taken me so long to see all this - the greatness of God and the impotency of all that my mind and heart has sought for protection. Emulating the armour of my most admired superhero did nothing to protect me, as hard as I tried. Superman did not swoop down to be the "Man of Steel, Man of Speed, Man of Strength", rescue me from danger and deflect the proverbial "sticks and stones". Optimus Prime from Transformers, for all his size, powerful voice and grand words of leadership had nothing to show or say when he was needed. Wolverine slashed his way through countless enemies both in the comics and on screen; there was not a single claw mark to be seen in defense of the innocent in real life. Michael Knight sallied forth with K.I.T.T  in Knight Rider as "a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless in a world of criminals that operate above the norm". Neither was to be seen anywhere. I could write reams upon reams about the concoctions of the mind and heart of man both in creating and looking to heroes that are evanescent shadows at best, ultimately failing to meet the expectations of those who hold on to them.

   How immeasurably different from any man is the heart of the warrior God of the Bible who stands and fights on my behalf!

   Cain, son of the very first family, has no inclination to love and protect his brother Abel; he murders him instead. When asked by God where his brother is, he answers with the words "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9, ESV). How different is the promise of the Lord of hosts of whom it is written in Psalm 121: "The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand...The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life"! History testifies time and again that fallen man, with all his grandiose promises of stopping oppression, lifting the downtrodden, executing justice and bringing peace has proven himself unable to be the hero that follows through. It is thrilling to realize that no human leader of any kind will ever claim, or be able to wield, the kind of power attributed to God in the words of Psalm 91 or anywhere else in the Bible. And He demonstrated His desire to love and protect in the ultimate exercise of power through the Person of Jesus.

   "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age," said Jesus in Matthew 28:20. The writer of Hebrews echoed this fact with the promise of God in the Old Testament: "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Joshua 1:5, ESV). I am only now beginning to comprehend the magnitude of God's protective nature in the Person of Christ. Any superhero conjured into existence by imaginative writers and artists looks pathetically silly in contrast to John's description of His vision of the risen Jesus in Revelation 1:12-16. Any heroic words that writers put into the mouths of heroes and superheroes of comics and books pales in comparison to the assertion of Christ: "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Revelation 1:17, ESV) Though I gave my life to Christ in serious commitment 15 years ago, it saddens me to contemplate that it has taken me so long to internalize this deep truth of His person:

  Christ is the Guardian who protects my heart and mind, not through emotional barriers, but through the active, living, invincible armour of His Holy Spirit within me who wraps Himself around me tighter than any man-made armour ever could.

   Even as I write this post, my mind is struggling to digest the implications of all that has hit me. I'm going to stop here and go and process all of this for a bit. See you in the next post!

- The Wisdom Seeker

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Conviction: I'm Not Iron Man

"It's not the armour that makes the hero, but the man inside." (Copyright Marvel Studios)
"I am Iron Man" - Tony Stark, "Iron Man" (2008)

To say that the last 24 hours since the "Adoration: Childhood Heroes" post have been a little unnerving would be a bit of an understatement. As if the realisations of the last several posts since "Broken Love" weren't painful enough, God clobbered me with some more as I was finishing the last one and followed it up over the next several hours for good measure. Though I like the wording of the poem "When God Wants To Drill A Man", I can't say I really look forward to these intense beatings between His hammer and anvil; they're not much fun when they're actually happening.

I've been dimly aware of something related to the barriers around my heart for some weeks now. But reflecting on what I'd written about my search for a 'Guardian' amongst non-existent "superheroes" who never came to the rescue, God hammered the first convicting blow home:

No matter how hard and thick I try to make the armour, the "arrows" inevitably get through.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!". Like most people, I learned that limerick of pseudo-bravery in school. But as everyone who memorised it will testify through experience, this asinine hallucination is about as true as believing in horoscopes, UFOs and bent spoons. The imbecile who composed this line obviously didn't bother to read what the Bible has to say about the tongue and its capacity for devastation (James 3:6-9). In any case, I had to face the hard reality that my approach of adding thicker armour, more barriers and hardening the heart hadn't stopped it from getting hurt.

God delivered the second blow as I was reading 'The Knowledge of The Holy' by A. W. Tozer, given to me on my birthday by my friend Julia. In a chapter dealing with the nature and implications of God's love, Tozer wrote:

"Fear is the painful emotion that arises at the thought that we may be harmed or made to suffer. This fear persists while we are subject to the will of someone who does not desire our well-being. The moment we come under the protection of one of good will, fear is cast out...The effort to conquer fear without removing the causes is altogether futile...As long as we are in the hands of chance, as long as we look for hope to the law of averages, as long as we must trust for survival to our ability to outhink or outmaneuver the enemy, we have every good reason to be afraid. And fear hath torment. To know that love is of God and to enter into the secret place leaning upon the arm of the Beloved - this and only this can cast out fear. Let a man become convinced that nothing can harm him and instantly for him all fear goes out of the universe. The nervous reflex, the natural revulsion to physical pain may be felt sometimes, but the deep torment of fear is gone forever. God is love and God is sovereign. His love disposes Him to desire our everlasting welfare and His sovereignty enables Him to secure it. Nothing can hurt a good man."

There was a stunned silence in my soul as the bombshell in those paragraphs impacted hard. In the aftermath of the explosion, the wheels in my head began turning, the tough questions began to erupt and the weight of conviction by the Holy Spirit began to press down: "What was your core motivation behind building all those walls? Has it all been based on conquering fear without facing the cause? Yes it has. Don't deny it, Kevin. Stop running away. It's all been based on trust in your own ability. You've been playing the part of your own bodyguard. Have you ever really, deeply believed that God loves you? Do you comprehend the implications of His loving nature? I don't think so. You don't really believe that He is powerful enough to protect your heart, do you? Or that he even wants to protect you? You've concluded during childhood that He deserted you when you were getting beaten up or hurt, haven't you? Deep down, you believed that like everyone else, He abandonded you to the wolves because He didn't love or want you. You've just never admitted it. Good grief, I'm such a horrible sinner..."

In the end, it boiled down to two painful realisations:

  • Deep down, I've never truly believed that I'm lovable to anyone, including God
  • I've never really believed that God is powerful enough to protect my heart, or that He wanted to

The third blow came later in the evening, as I was at Sam Chua's place for a Christmas and caroling party. A book on his shelf titled 'Humility: True Greatness' caught my eye and I sat down in a corner to read. The second chapter defined and talked about why God hates pride with the words: "Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence on Him."
With this final impact, the linchpin tying everything together that God was clobbering me with, fell into place:

In its search for the 'Guardian' and adoration of non-existent superheroes who never showed up when I needed them, my heart in its pride did not believe that God loved me enough, was powerful enough and was faithful enough to be the Bodyguard that it was looking for, or that He even wanted to be there for me.  

After so many years, I finally have to admit that I'm not "Iron Man", though I badly want to be. It seems God is getting me to slowly take off the armour and dismantle the barriers, one piece at a time. Could we please take a break from the 'hammer and anvil procedure' now, God? I'm feeling really sore. Ouch.

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline, or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights." (Prov. 3 : 11-12)

- The Wisdom Seeker

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Adoration: Childhood Heroes

Iron Man poster, copyright of Marvel studios
It's been a little difficult figuring out what direction to take next after writing "Affliction: Childhood Wounds". That post took quite a bit out of me mentally and emotionally.

I think recounting the story of the "heroes" that I began to look up to is the right place for me to visit next.

Sometime during the years in elementary school in the midst of all that was happening to me, I think my mind latched on to the idea of a 'Guardian' or 'Protector' as its defense mechanism. Looking back, I guess what that 10-year old boy longed for was a bodyguard, someone powerful who would step in between him and the world, and stop anyone who would hurt him in future. In any case, my heart responded with a passionate search for someone who would fulfill that craving.

This search for the 'Guardian' figure became a very important 'lens' that filtered all that I subsequently read or watched during my childhood and teenage years. It characterized the characters in the cartoons and television shows that I gravitated towards and still vividy remember: Bionic Six, Centurions, Dino Riders, Gundam, Iron Man, Macross, M.A.S.K, Pole Position, Transformers, Knight Rider, Airwolf, Streethawk, MacGyver, North and South, The A-Team, The Equalizer and many more. It dictated the kinds of comic books that I occasionally flipped through at a supermarket or bookstore - Iron Man, Transformers, and occasionally, Batman. It most definitely had a powerful influence on the kinds of toys that I liked and wanted to played with, most of which were related to the television shows that I watched.

However, most of the imaginary heroes that I looked up to eventually could not satisfy what I was looking for; there always seemed to be something missing, or disappointing in each character that resulted in dissatisfaction. Thus, I moved on from one to another, in a fruitless search. Of all these non-existent people that my heart was enamoured by, there was one in particular that was the most important to me.

I first met Iron Man around the age of 8, while flipping through an ancient Marvel Annual storybook from the 1950's that belonged to my mother. Of all the superheroes featured in their individual stories, I was instantly mesmerized by that of Anthony Edward Stark and his armoured alter ego. I vividly remember the admiration I felt for the first time, looking at an illustration of Iron Man with bullets deflecting off his shining red and gold armour; it seemed to be an instant recognition of all that my heart had been looking for.

In retrospect, I am convinced that I fell in love with Iron Man not primarily because of Tony Stark's brilliant engineering or debonair personality, but because of the Iron Man armour itself. My eight-year old self fell in love with the armour, for that was what I wanted to do with my heart:

I wanted armour for my heart, believing that
it would protect me against pain inflicted by other people.

Iron Man render for the first Iron Man movie

But there's more. Two days ago, it occurred to me that my resonance with the Iron Man story occurs on an even deeper level that I'd never seen before. Because at its core, the story of Tony Stark and Iron Man is really that of a man with a damaged and broken heart. The entire Iron Man story begins with Tony building the armour to keep his shrapnel-ridden heart alive, and to escape from the enemies around him. Even as a child, I immediately grasped the metaphor of the story and instinctively aligned it with my personal pain and hurt, though it's only now that I'm actually cognizant of it and able to verbalize it properly. I suppose it's no accident that one of the most powerful lines that I remember from all the Iron Man comic books that I've ever read, are Tony's concluding words as he sits at a window and looks at snow falling outside:

"I wish I had a heart."

For the next two decades, Iron Man would become my definitive "superhero", because of these two powerful components that riveted my attention and I identified with so strongly - Tony Stark's damaged heart, and the armour that he built to protect it and keep him alive. But Tony Stark and Iron Man could not meet the need that I was looking for, though I badly wanted it; they only became the symbol of what was going on inside me. Even as I write this now, God is bringing me to some new realizations. But I will reserve those for the next post. See you then!

- The Wisdom Seeker

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Infliction: Childhood Wounds

I've been sitting on the fence after the thoughts of "Old Spice Can't Help You", and the posts prior to that, especially "Broken Love". In the midst of all my realization of the sinfulness and brokenness of my own heart, I find myself looking back at what I've written, and hesitating. Hesitating, because things have been converging to this for some time, and I didn't realize it. Hesitating, because it forces me to get personal and frank, and I really don't want to. Hesitating, because the rubber of my theology must meet the road of reality and I'm suddenly recalling a quote from my favourite movie:

"Remember what Bilbo used to say: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Frodo Baggins, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring

I think I'll step out onto the road, and trust God to guide my thoughts for the next few posts.

In the cognizance of all that I've been running from, I've had to acknowledge the hurtful experiences of childhood and see their effects through new lenses. In some cases, I've needed to admit that they happened, that it mattered, and that neither could be conveniently swept under the rug.

A lot of the wounds I've had to process are from school. Being the youngest in my class, I was 'different' in many ways that I couldn't really explain. I guess I still am. For other reasons that I've never understood, the bullying began after I shifted classes in Grade 6 - first verbal and then the physical beating. This went on for years, all the way to my final year of high school.

Writing this now and feeling a familiar sharp pain coming on, I suddenly feel like shrugging it off, saying it wasn't a big deal, didn't matter and changing the subject. I mean, everyone gets beaten in school, right? So what? '"Stiff upper lip, be tough and take it like a man!", I feel like telling myself, just as I did as a child. But there was the problem in trying to "be tough" - I took it all silently and said nothing. Picked myself up quietly for years, after getting ganged up on, insulted, pushed around and beaten up, and went back to class after lunch recess, or home after school as if nothing had happened. I suppressed the pain of abandonment and rejection because I wanted to be "strong", and vowed never to cry. And so I did, proceeding to build walls around my heart and layering on the "emotional armor". Even though I accepted Christ as my Saviour in 9th grade, I didn't know how to deal with the underlying hurt and anguish. The wounds festered under the surface and during high school, led to another unconscious vow:

No one would ever be allowed to hurt me or lay a finger on me again.

Initially, that translated into picking fights with the same people who had started the bullying years ago in sixth grade. But after high school, things proceeded on a different front with silently shutting people out in different ways for the next 11 years, trying to keep people from getting emotionally close enough to figure out where to "aim the arrow". When they did hurt me, it became an immense battle to forget; a close friend of mine recently made the observation that my mind is simultaneously my greatest gift and my worst enemy. I had no problem admitting that he was absolutely right. The pattern of hurt, suppression, building emotional armor and shutting people out was one of the contributing factors culminating in the events described in my previous post, "Family Matters".

There was one glaring problem with all the emotional armor and walls that I was building:

No matter how thick the armor, how high the wall, or repeated vows to "be strong" and "never cry", the heart stubbornly rebels with all its might in the desire to be genuinely loved and keeps hammering back against the barriers, demanding to be let out.

During my time in school and for almost a decade after, that desire led my heart to some strange and curious people in search of rescue and freedom. I will keep that for the next post. Writing this one has taken the longest and been the most draining of any that I have ever written. I suppose that's what happens when the rubber meets the road in attempting to "walk the walk, not just talking the talk". It's tough to be honest and face the brokenness.

Till next time, then!

- The Wisdom Seeker

   This post was the first that led to a four-part series on childhood hurts, heroes, and realizations about both. The full series is listed below:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Starlight Theatre's Dress Rehearsal

   I got home a little while ago from attending the dress rehearsal for Willingdon's annual christmas musical production, put on by its very own Starlight Theatre. This year's production (titled "The Christmas Party") is particularly special and important to me, because I volunteered to help with set construction and will be volunteering during the actual show times. It was the very first time I had volunteered with a major Willingdon event, and I've learned so much in the process. I'm looking forward to writing about my experiences in upcoming posts.

   I was surprised at the size crowd that filled the main sanctuary to capacity, as I sat in one of the back rows with my friend Tim. It was hosted as an outreach event for seniors, so families brought their elderly relatives and friends. While Tim and I were waiting for the show to start, I overheard a lady taking her seat in the row behind me, mentioning that she had brought 30 friends from her retirement home to watch the show. I was so impressed - this lady was still sharing her faith and making an impact for Christ in the retirement home in which she found herself.

   It was a terrific performance, made deeply satisfying knowing that I had been part of an amazing experience building the set, props, painting, lighting, and everything else that I had poured myself into. "The Christmas Party", from Willindon Church's Starlight Theatre, runs from December 16th - 20th. Information about the event can be found at: Do try to come and watch!

   But more about that later. Here are some photos. I will be adding more throughout the week at my Flickr photostream.

December 14th: Completed Set, Before Rehearsal Time
Willingdon's Main Sanctuary, Taken From High Up On The Set
In Full Swing, With Pastor Ron Clark Conducting The Orchestra
This Was Such An Awesome Song!

        - The Wisdom Seeker

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Old Spice" Can't Help You

"Smell Like A Man, Man" - The advertisement for Old Spice Bodywash

Three days after the reflections of We All Want To Believe, I'm still haunted by "Beauty and The Beast". I think I need to see the whole movie and absorb its full impact; it's been ages since I last saw it. It's hard to swallow the fact that it's taken God more than 11 years to break through to me with the power behind its message. And with it, He's also blown all the wounds and submerged hurt of more than a decade to the surface in one mighty eruption. As I'm confronted with the "Beast" in the mirror, I'm crushed under the realization of the gaping hole in me that needs change and healing. God's ability to torpedo my world with one animated fairy tale is shocking; this year seems to have been an unending series of such assumption-devastating events.

So what does Old Spice have to do with it?

"The man your man could smell like!" was the punchline of the recent spate of advertisements from Old Spice, implying increased manliness if men would use their bath product instead of "ladies-scented bodywash". I don't question the wit and humor of their marketing strategy (only surpassed by a friend of mine named Wanda). But in the light of the pressure and affliction that other men and I struggle with, this Old Spice advertisement reeks of pure superficiality.

"Old Spice" has become my metaphor for all the falsehood that men are coerced to use in demonstrating masculinity, ultimately as bogus as the love underpinning the marriages surveyed in TIME Magazine's report. I refer to all the posturing and masquerading that we are encouraged to undertake in hiding behind looks, physique, money, clothing, education, career, power, prestige, rebellion, the pseudo machismo attitude, fake spirituality....I could go on and on.

What good is it being "the man your man could smell like" if there's a hole in his soul the size of a bomb crater? Or "an oyster with two tickets to that thing you love" if he has emotional barriers that could stop artillery shells? Or overflowing diamonds if he has gambled away his soul? Or being able to "bake a gourmet cake in the dream kitchen he built for you with his own hands" if he burns down a relationship because he refuses to admit his wounds? Or taking a "swan dive!" if his emotional and spritual depth can be measured with a ruler?

We are beyond the help of "Old Spice" if such is our condition,. I believe this is beautifully illustrated in the prologue of "Beauty and The Beast". My problem, similar to the predicament of the prince in the video below, had some variations. More in upcoming posts. Until then, have a good weekend!

- The Wisdom Seeker

I wish to admit that I have used Old Spice aftershave, not because of clever marketing, but because my maternal grandfather uses it and I admired him for many reasons as a child. I copied him when I first started shaving. I still use it not because I want to be the man her man could smell like, but because I don't like irritated skin and skin infections after shaving.

I highly recommend it for this purpose :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We All Want To Believe

Disney's Beauty and The Beast (1991)
   The concluding question of my last post has stayed with me the last few days. It's become less about TIME Magazine's article, and more about what it all means to me personally. I suppose I just want to believe. Despite my own brokenness as a sinful human being. Despite what I've experienced, read, seen and heard. Despite the circus acts that play out around me in the name of 'love'. Deep down, I still want to believe. I think we all do - even if we're battered, bruised and crawling on the ground. But it's so hard.

   And an awesome, timeless tale came back to me:

   Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast' fascinated me when I first watched it. Not initially because of the romance or the great love story, though I've come to love that too. My attention was riveted by the Beast, because I saw myself in him. Time and again as I have watched this movie, I have followed his face, his eyes and his expression - even in the scene above. I couldn't take my eyes off him. I still can't.

   The Beast reminds me of myself, in times past and present. Rather than the spell of an enchantress, I see my wounds of childhood years that turned the heart that could have been into the heart that is. I remember my heart that resorted to building layers of "emotional armor", finally shutting everyone out in some form or the other for the past 11 years or more. I am saddened as I remember the many ways in which it hurt and pushed away those who cared about me . I reflect on how it was driven like a wounded animal into wilderness, following a broken road that finally led it into the loving arms of Jesus. But scars and memories still remain, and I often see the Beast looking back at me in the mirror, wishing the transformation would happen faster or sooner.

   But as much as I am spellbound by the Beast, I cannot shut out Belle either. I must admit her pivotal role in the story that brings upon the Beast the crushing realization of all that resides in him. Without her, he cannot look at himself and recognize what he has become. I believe that this provides an essential clue that differentiates true love, romance and marriage from the bad comedy in North America that TIME Magazine has reported on.

   I am convinced that a truly, truly beautiful woman shaped by God has this effect on a man whom God is molding, when He brings her in front of him. I believe that her "Belle" is contrasted by God to show him the "Beast" that still exists within, desperately wanting transformation. I also believe that God uses the Beast to transform her "Belle". And that only propels both closer to God in search of that change within. When that happens in the context of a relationship where there is genuine love and romance, no one will ask the question: "Who Needs Marriage?"

 We all want to believe in this. Somehow, we must. Can we?

   I wish my Beast would transform.

- The Wisdom Seeker.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Broken Love

How We Love, by Milan & Kay Yerkovich
"Namaste, I am Sushmita Sen from India, where love is the essence of life!"

   Sushmita Sen, who won the Miss Universe title in 1994, introduced herself during the first round of the competition with those words. I remember this line from a magazine article that I read a few months later featuring both her and Aishwarya Rai, who won the Miss World competition the same year in South Africa.

   It was, the latter half of that statement that made an impression on me - "...from India, where love is the essence of life!". That phrase was dredged from the depths of my memory by the TIME Magazine article that I mentioned in my last post, "Marriage Gets Mangled". Given the current state of affairs outlined by the TIME/Pew report, it doesn't seem that love is the "essence of life" anywhere.

   And that's the point I want to start off with:
Love is broken. And I'm broken too.

   I came to this realisation in early summer, through the book "How We Love". One of the "family" had been reading it, and recognized first himself and then me in a chapter covering one of the five damaged love styles or imprints - Avoider, Pleaser, Vacillator, Controller and Victim. "That's totally Kevin!", he said, pointing it out to my room mate. They both had to push through my usual obstinacy in order to coax me to read it, but when I finally did, it was a bombshell. The chapter described me with unnerving accuracy - childhood experiences, molding, adult mindset, core nature, thought processes, reactions and much more. I had been searching for these answers for more than a decade, but never expected them to be laid out with such lucidity. That book got passed around our "family" circle; I believe the reaction was pretty much the same as we each recognized ourselves described in there.

   After my initial shock wore off, the after-effect was pain and consternation; I contemplated anew the depth of my brokenness and all that needed healing. With so many answers crystallizing at once, I saw myself as never before. "Mirror, Mirror on the wall..." conjured up a shattered and fragmented visage reflecting a deluge of memories of abandonment, neglect, bullying, insults, submerged anxiety, anger, and much more.

   The realisation, when it hit, was like an arrow:
I don't know how to love.

   The next shaft was aimed by the Bible and struck even deeper: "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19, ESV)

   As conviction sunk in, I was transfixed by implications of the 'because' straddling that sentence.

   Because I didn't know how to really love, but God did. Because He loved me first with real love. Because His love warmed a cold, hard soul. Because His love showed me the genuine from the forgery. Because I love people with His love, not my own. Because I'm incapable of loving anyone without knowing the deep, deep love of Jesus first. Because without this, anything that we claim to be 'loving' is a farcical sham. Because bogus love destroys relationships and marriages, sinking the ships of hopes and dreams.
       I am convinced that TIME Magazine asked the wrong question: "But if marriage is no longer obligatory or even - in certain cases - helpful, then what is it for? It's impossible to address that question without first answering another: Who is marriage for?" I believe the right question to ask, sung by The Black Eyed Peas is:

       Where Is The Love?

       It seems that "love" in North America has now become the proverbial dead horse under the flogging of bogus marriage. More reflections in upcoming posts.
    - The Wisdom Seeker


    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Marriage Gets Mangled

    TIME Magazine - November 29, 2009
       This is my significant post of today, and also this blog's 25th posting! Curious that it should be on this subject, though. 

       The above issue of TIME Magazine caught my eye while grocery shopping at Price Smart, so I had bought it on Monday and had a cursory look. Done in association with the Pew Research Center, it looks at the seismic shifts in American society's view of and attitude toward marriage, family and "evolving notions of what constitutes family in our society". Given the magnitude of osmotic influence that our southern neighbour exerts on Canadian economy and culture, I believe it is quite safe to assume that the shifts described will be seen in our society as well, if not already underway.

       Given what I've seen and read so far, it's quite an explosive article.

       The caption on the 'Contents' page reads "The marriage conundrum: We don't really need it for procreation or security, so why do we love it?". From there to the observations and statistics in the main article, the assertions and implications run the gamut from incisive and brilliant to ludicrous and asinine. It is equally noteworthy that my own emotions and reactions have been simultaneously and proportionally driven from shock and disillusionment to provocation and fury.

       So in addition to the posts that will be appearing this month, I intend to devote quite a bit of thinking and real estate in the coming weeks both to this article and the related issues that surround the whole sorry state of affairs. It got me thinking about a related blog post that I put up earlier last year, titled "To Hold Someone's Heart". I don't think I'll ever forget what I was feeling while writing that.

       This, on the other hand, is too much.

    - The Wisdom Seeker


    Set Construction - Day 4

       Didn't get to do too much today, mostly because I arrived after most of the action was over. But I did get to help haul two big stage lights from floor to ceiling using a rope and pulley, which was really cool :)

       In addition, I checked out the paint job that I had done yesterday on the set, which had turned out surprisingly well for a first attempt. I suspected that it was probably because the guys must have done a second coat and made it looked really professional, rather than any painting skill of my own!

       Here are some shots of how the set looked today. Technical rehearsal was beginning just as I left. It seems things will really ramp up from Monday to Friday next week, with work going from 9 AM to 10 PM everyday. It's really special being part of something like this. I'm looking forward to helping as much as I can :)

    Willingdon's main stage today

    Set that I helped paint with props added

    Fireplace with props added
    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Excerpt: God's Providence

       I came across this paragraph while eating breakfast today morning that I wanted to share. It is  found in Chapter 7, "Look for God's Providence" of the book "Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?" by Bruce Waltke:

    "Try to keep in mind that God in His providence will allow both positive and negative experiences to come your way. They are not necessarily a measure of your spirituality, although they may very well be a wonderful opportunity to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we are at the mercy of time and chance. Peter reminds believers that "it is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:17)." You may do the right thing and still have circumstances go against you. All you can do is learn to accept the fact that God has never promised that life will be fair or that we deserve an explanation for everything. There will be times when you believe that the Word of God is leading you to do something, it becomes the desire of your heart, and other Christians encourage you to follow your heart, but providence will not allow it. Assume that God has something else planned. Learn to trust God in spite of your circumstances."

    - Bruce Waltke, "Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?"

       I hope this encourages you.

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    I Came, I Sawed, I Hammered

    "I came, I saw, I conquered"
        - Julius Caesar (47 BC, after defeating Pharnaces II of Pontus)

    "I came, I sawed, I hammered"
        - Kevin Thomas (2010 AD, surveying his first day's handiwork)

      I just got home an hour ago from my first day of volunteering with construction work at Willingdon. Two days ago, in thinking about the current state of affairs in which I find myself, I decided to take the initiative to change all that. I had made up my mind that I wanted to pour all the energy I had into serving and loving other people as much as I could during this Christmas. Remembering that Willingdon needed volunteers to help with constructing the massive set for their upcoming Christmas production, I went down to the church and told the crew already working that I wanted to help. Below is a photo of the work that was underway when I signed up:

    Willingdon's main foyer
    Yesterday's construction

      So today afternoon, I went in to Willingdon's main sanctuary wearing my most ragged and worn out clothes possible and tried to help. I use the word 'tried', as I'm pretty much a construction ignoramus among the rest of the people there. I'm not really one of those chaps you'd find on an episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" or a similar show, strutting around with tools and all that.

      Anyhow, I got assigned to nail down part of the stage, so I got myself a cordless electric screwdriver and spent the next hour or so on my knees doing that. After that, I helped cut up stryrofoam, and use it to construct a mock fireplace. And finally, I am proud to say that I painted walls for the first time in my life with a paint roller and a bucket of green paint. In fact, here's a photo of the area of the set I painted, the fireplace prop I helped build and the set at the end of today's stint. :)
    Yes! I actually painted all of that!
    And helped build that!

    Set at the end of Day 3

      So what made all of this so cool? I found out that manual labour is very satisfying, in surveying my handiwork at the end of a hard day's work. Sure, I've done the occasional stuff here and there, but not at a stretch like this. I was exhausted, with paint spots on my hands, jeans and shoes. But I was happy. I wonder if that's what God felt at the end of His creation spree in the book of Genesis...

      Hard work never killed anybody. I've always known that, but I'm learning that in a different kind of "hard" way. And I like it. In fact, I'd like to think that by the end of next week, I won't be too bad at it, if I do say so myself! I'm looking forward to tomorrow :)

      By the way, Willingdon's Christmas production is presented by its very own Starlight Theatre, and is called "The Christmas Party". You can find details of it on the main Willingdon site here, and buy tickets at Ticketweb. Come and have a look!

                                   - The Wisdom Seeker

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    "Family" Matters

    Our "Family Portrait", taken at Vancouver YVR airport

      Three months ago, something extraordinary happened within a small group of friends whom I have known for some time from C4C @ SFU and attend the same church with. Over the last year and more, I had gotten into the habit of going to the same church service, sitting together, having meals, watching movies, talking, fellowshipping and sharing everyday life. Noticing long-standing patterns of interaction within our group dynamic (which only amplified over time) we gathered one Sunday afternoon to talk and address them. Some matters were touchy and sensitive, others controversial. Quite a bit of it had to do with me.

      I still have trouble expressing what happened at that gathering. I don't think anyone anticipated what happened, least of all me.

      We voiced concerns, grudges, emotions, sensitive matters, memories and processed them together. I had a lot of stuff to disclose, confess and repent for; so did everyone else. We vented, argued, rebuked, cried, shared, forgave, laughed and prayed together. It was strange and in some ways awkward for me, as I'd never done something like that before.

      But in the process, we experienced a very tangible and powerful bonding. I remember some of us talking about it days later and reflecting how we'd never seen or been part of something like that before. In many ways, we felt very much like a family, and some of us said so.

      Above all, I believe we saw the restoring power and grace of God through His Gospel brought to bear upon a community of fallen people. In his latest book "Has Christianity Failed You?", Ravi Zacharias makes a powerful observation:

      "Human beings will always find ways to divide and create hierarchies. Such is the plight of the human heart...This is the first clue to transcending ethnicity. One may call to Jesus out of his ethnic and cultural distinctive, but one's ultimate transformation comes in that personal dimension of trust apart from any cultural elitism...The call of Jesus is an invitation to freedom and trust. I am free only inasmuch as I can trust my fellow human being. If I cannot trust those around me, I am not free...The vision of God for humanity is that we might see his claim on us as an invitation to live and love, transcending all ethnic and cultural boundaries, not because Jesus is David's son, but because He is the instrument of power over all other power, of essential worth over political ideology, of human need over ethnic arrogance. He has eradicated every barrier of race and culture and position in life."

      So why am I writing this now? I stand at a fork in the road of my life, a turning point with a critical decision to make. I look around at those closest to me and see them looking back. I am moved, even unnerved by the depth of affection that I see  in their eyes. Maybe I am forced to confront the possibility that I have assumed myself to be unlovable by anyone, and shut everyone out  for years with that one assumption. 

      More often than not, we fallen human beings don't appreciate what we have, or the people God offers and makes available to us. Sadly, history will testify that the only way we realize value and are forced to grow is by losing and reflecting on what could have been. As the popular saying goes, "you don't know what you have until it's gone". From Genesis to Revelation and our own personal lives, we all have enough and more of those moments to remember and reflect on.

      To my Family and "Family": thank you for loving me in spite of my vacillation, moods, stubbornness, silence, stupidity, sullenness, bickering, sharp tongue, sensitivity, insensitivity, ingratitude, unkindness, and moments when I've shut you all out. As I realized a couple of days ago, I have nothing good to say about myself and everything good to say about my God.

      I love you all very much.

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    (Don't) Find God's Will

      Over the last week or two, I've been reading "Finding The Will of God: A Pagan Notion?" which I borrowed from my roomate, Paulman. I'd first seen it earlier in the summer at Sam and Esther's housewarming, and was attracted by the title. Written by Bruce Waltke, it addressed the fallacy amongst some Christians that the knowledge contained in God's will regarding a matter is 'hidden' and must be 'found' by some supernatural activity that enables a believer to penetrate the divine mind to get His decision. He also explained how 'finding' in this sense is really a form of divination, and why that is expressly wrong.

      It is a powerful book. Powerful because it removed numerous misconceptions, answered nagging suspicions, and laid things out in a concise and clear framework.

      It also saddened and infuriated me simultaneously.

      I felt sad as I recognized descriptions of many traps that I and others had fallen into in times past, each incontrovertibly described and refuted. Sad as I thought of how each mistake might have cost me in growing in maturity in my walk with God. Some of those mistakes might have had very costly repercussions or consequences; only God knows, I guess.

      But I also felt furious as the book accurately described numerous fallacious teachings I'd heard from the pulpit and various Bible studies over the years. I guess I felt conflicted in experiencing fury at the people who had not researched and prepared their material properly, responsible for teaching hungry people and feeding them falsehood instead. I wasn't sure if I should feel anger, or compassion in thinking that they might themselves have been duped and duped me and others through their own ignorance.    

      The following pair are examples among the many paragraphs that stuck chords of conviction:

      "The New Testament gives no explicit command to "find God's will", nor can you find any  particular instructions on how to go about finding God's will. There isn't a magic formula offered Christians that will open some mysterious door of wonder, allowing us to get a glimpse of the mind of the Almighty....God is not a magic genie....The reliance of special signs from God is the mark of an immature person - someone who cannot simply believe the truth as presented, but must have a special, miraculous sign as the symbol of authority from God."

      "Above all that, we fear making a mistake. For you see, a mistake suggests that I am not a competent, worthwhile person. Therefore I will go to extreme measures to make sure that any major decision I make will be a good one. Also, I truly want to please God, so I will seek to discover His mind on the matter at hand."      

      In contrast, Walkte offered the following as God's "Program of Guidance", which I've summarized in bullet form using his headings:

    The Bible:
    •    Learn To interpret Scripture
    •    Learn To pray while reading through Scripture
    •    Learn To memorize and meditate on Scripture
    •    Learn To humbly obey Scripture
    •    Learn To memorize and meditate on Scripture
    Having a heart for God:
    •   Are my desires correlated with Scripture?
    •   Are my desires correlated with presenting my body as a living sacrifice?
    •   Are my desires correlated with faith?
    •   Are my desires correlated with prayer?
    Wise Counsel:
    • Whom to turn to
    • What to say
    • What is the call of God?
    God's Providence:
    • God works on our behalf
    • We cannot always know why
    • The danger of putting circumstances above God's word
    Wise Judgement:
    • Decisions in the light of Scripture
    • Decisions in the light of giftedness
    • Decisions in the light of ability
    • Decisions according to circumstances
    • Decisions according to an overall strategy
      This is an awesome book! I'm going to get myself a copy.

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    My Life As The TULIP

    The thought that jolted me awake at 5 AM today morning:

    "I look back on my years, and what do I have to show for them? A life of Total Depravity, that was hunted down by the Unconditional Election of the Father, rescued from the damnation of Hell by the Limited Atonement of Christ upon His Cross, drawn there cowering and trembling by their Irresistible Grace, and set free to partake of the Perseverance of the Saints by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    I am a man who truly has nothing good to say about himself, and everything good to say about his God."

    Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints. That's TULIP, Reformed Theology or Calvinism, by the way. :)

    This post is dedicated to my dear friend Angela Hung, with whom I have hung out, fought with, bickered, laughed at, laughed with, cried, prayed, fellowshipped, watched movies, shared meals, attended church and lots more, on the occasion of her Baptism. God bless you.

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Interview Blues

    Yesterday, I came away from an interview feeling like an engineering imbecile. What made it especially bad was the fact that I really liked the company, and the product they're developing is really impressive. I'd come across them by accident and taken the initiative to approach them a couple of months ago, though they weren't hiring. Got a call from them on Tuesday night, asking me to come in for an interview. I was elated.

    Unfortunately, it didn't go well, because my skill set isn't quite what they require at the moment. Although they appreciated my software skills and might call me back in future, I wasn't happy. I felt like I'd bungled everything, and felt like an idiot for not being able to 'get it right', for not being what they wanted. Drowning my sorrows in a hot chocolate from a Starbucks on the way home, I realised that I sometimes expect too much of and am too hard on myself when I fail. It's ok if an interview doesn't go well, or I don't get that job offer. It's ok if I can't recall my engineering knowledge perfectly or don't know everything; I'm not a supercomputer and I don't want to be. I don't have to be The Perfect Engineer or The Perfect Interview Candidate. I just have to do my best. That brings such relief, even in the midst of disappointment.

    So here's a (hopefully) humorous and deprecating little poem I scribbled on the way home yesterday, remembering various interview stories that I've heard over the years. This is dedicated to those dejected, yet intrepid job-hunting souls, who have felt like the epitome of the "Doofus Ignoramus" after bungling an interview that seemed to be going exceedingly well. I especially remember my good friends Tim and Varun, who persevered through pressure and hardship for more than a year before finding good engineering jobs. I have deep admiration and respect for you.

    I hope those who have been in the workplace for some time will remember their own early interview foibles and gaffes with a smile and shake of the head. Cheers, y'all!

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    True Blue Interview
    (by Kevin Thomas)

    Walked into the office dressed for success,
    Suit, tie and shirt neatly pressed.
    Knew my stuff, unflappable attitude
    Radiating confidence, I was The Dude
    Looked around, felt right at home
    Wasn't self-conscious, or feeling alone
    "You can do this, old chap,
    Piece of cake, it's a snap."

    "Why, hello there!," the interviewers said
    Vigorous handshakes, as we each the other read
    "Tea? Coffee? A glass of water, maybe?"
    Such hospitality, they must surely like me!
    70 mm Kodak smiles flashed all around
    Off to a great start, things looked sound.

    "So, tell us a bit about yourself"
    That's easy, I could fill a whole shelf!
    Careful now, don't say too much
    Short and precise, just the right touch
    Beaming smiles, they looked happy
    Seems like my answer wasn't too sappy
    And off from there we happily went,
    Like the perfect Waltz, all was well.

    How we joked and laughed as we talked shop!
    Let the good times roll! Who wants to stop?
    Java, Linux and Networking too,
    Embedded systems, Digital Logic to boot
    Question after question I answered with flair
    At this rate the job offer would surely be there!

    Then, like the serpent in Eden's paradise came
    An innocent question to defame and shame:
    "So, what kind of experience do you have with.."

    Heart nearly stopped, body went stiff
    The rolling meadow turned into a massive cliff
    Mind stuck in neutral, scrabbling to engage
    Trying to remember, but stuck in a cage
    "Oh, good grief, what shall I do?"
    Is this my curtain call, to bid adieu?
    Hadn't touched that stuff in such a long time,
    Don't remember anything, that's not a good sign!
    "Um, uh..," vauge answers were the best I could do
    The Titanic was sinking, they could see it too

    The Oldest Engineer gave me a kindly smile,
    The type one bestows upon an imbecile child
    Asked more questions, tried to help
    Didn't do much good, I could only yelp
    Their method of ending my misery was humane;
    Didn't nick an artery, or cut a vein:
    "Do you have any questions for us?"
    Thank you kind sir! It's no big fuss,
    Although I feel like I've been hit by a bus.
    Pleasantries exchanged, wrap-up time
    And onto the street, Vancouver's winter clime

    "I'm sorry, God", I say
    Failed again, but that's ok
    Time to head home for a cup of tea,
    Tolkien's waiting there for me
    Cheer up! Chin up and smile!
    God's kept it waiting, just one more mile!

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Heavenly Mother ?!

    I was at Starbucks at Metrotown mall a few hours ago, feeling the need for a hot chocolate after having made it out for my driving lesson in -10 degree weather. So I'd decided to sit down in the foyer, sip for a bit and get warm before going back outside to catch the Skytrain home. While I was sitting there, this well-dressed chap holding an iPhone came up to me, asking if he could give me a presentation for some 'homework' he was doing for his church. Curious at being approached by an apparent Christian and wondering if he was doing some kind of evangelism with his iPhone, I agreed. He started off by telling me that the earthly reality that we see in this life is a shadow of things in heaven, which is the true reality.

    Things were going fine until the I saw the first slide of the presentation at the end of his first sentence. I inquired which church he went to, which I shall leave unnamed. I guess they didn't go in the direction he was expecting after that.

    It was the picture on the first slide that didn't seem right. The lower half depicted an 'earthly' family with a father, mother brother and sister. The upper half showed a corresponding diagram of a 'heavenly family' with a corresponding Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, Heavenly Brother and Heavenly Sister. The Heavenly Mother entity had a question mark above it, implying that we needed to figure out who this was. 'Heavenly Mother? What the...', I thought. Things didn't make sense and a little bell in the back of the head was beginning to tinkle.

    It ramped up from there in the next two or three slides. He attempted to stitch together Revelation 22:17, 21:2, 21:9-11 and Galatians 4:26 to make his case that the church is the Bride and therefore the entity that corresponds to the Heavenly Mother in the first slide. By this time, the tinkle had turned into a fire alarm and things were feeling distinctly uncomfortable, so I hit the brakes and asked him to explain how he arrived at his conclusions.

    When we got to the root of the issue after a lot of back-and-forth inquiry, it really emerged from his understanding of God as the Trinity. He didn't believe that there were three distinct persons in the Godhead, but just one being adopting different roles, putting on different 'masks' as a Father, then Son and finally Spirit at different points in the recorded history of the Bible. Since there was only a monad in the entity of the Heavenly Father, he could comfortably assume the 'Bride' to correspond to the Heavenly Mother in his family diagram.

    I don't remember too much of the conversation after that. However, the more we conversed, it turned out that he interpreted various parts of scripture to mean among other things, that:

    • God was male and female in nature, as inferred from Genesis 1:26-27
    • Christ would appear again in His original earthly body at the time of His second coming
    • The 'baptism' Christ was referring to in Luke 12:49-50 referred to Him coming again as the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
    • There were 'Feasts of God' that Christians should observe post-Cross and Resurrection, such as the Passover, Pentecost and others
    • Passover in the Old Testament corresponds to the Lord's Supper in the New Testament
    • It shouldn't be called 'Communion' because it was a man-made word not found in the Bible
    • It should only be observed once a year at a specific date, because Passover was celebrated in the OT only once a year

    There was a whole lot more we could have talked about, but it was past noon and I had to go home and get on with my day. On the ride home, I reflected on how so much could go wrong in doctrine, interpretation of scripture and ultimately the outworkings in practical life with one wrong assumption.

    The triune God forms the core of the Christian faith around which any framework of doctrine is built. Discrediting and eliminating the existence, evidence and implications of the Trinity means that one really has no 'Gospel' to share and no good news to tell, because the "God" being talked about is a phony; we're not even talking about the real Person anymore.

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    What's In The Name?

    On Thursday, I was up at SFU to help a friend with the set-up of a talk that he was giving for a new faculty initiative that he'd started recently, and drop in on my former research lab to check on some things. It was also the last day of United Way's book sale, and having picked up 4 books for $2 each (incredible deal!) I'd decided to have one last look to see if there were any nuggets remaining.

    Apart from a Reader's Digest Illustrated Bible, my eye fell upon a book with a purple jacket and gold lettering called 'To Know Him By Name'. It turned out to be a beautifully calligraphed volume talking about the very same things I'd written about in one of my previous posts, "Withstanding God's Tests For The Sake Of The Name". The description on the inner sleeve went as follows:

    "In the heart of every man and every woman is a longing: to somehow know and understand the God who is beyond our limited understanding. To catch a glimpse of the One our eyes cannot physically see.

    Of course, God is entirely, and wonderfully, unknowable. It is this very fact which often reminds us that He is, indeed, God. Yet although we can never understand all of Him, we can explore many facets of His character. We can know God as a trusted friend. We can find hope and courage in knowing Him as protector, healer, provider, creator, and much, much more!

    God calls you tenderly by name. Make sure you can call Him by His own. Experience the beauty and power found in fifteen of His biblical names in To Know Him By Name."

    Thumbing through the book, I thought again about that previous post, and what I'd written. This time, not about why His name is important and meaningful, but why the God revealed in the Bible and Christian faith is distinctive because He has a name, or even fifteen different ones that He's addressed by. So what if He has one name or more? Why does that make Him different from the Allah of Islam, Brahman or the 330 million deities of Hinduism, or any other faith that puts forward an explanation for origin, meaning, morality and destiny? Two ideas seemed to emerge after a bit of thinking.

    Firstly, I think that it is not just that God has a name, but that He is willing to share His name with those He calls His people. It is not just that He is "El", the Powerful God; it is more - that He is willing to impart that power to me, because I need His power in my frailty. He is not just El Emet, the Truthful God; He is willing to impart that truth within me, so that I can stop being a liar and become truthful like Him. He doesn't keep the name "El Yeshuati", God of my Salvation to Himself; He is actually willing to use it to save me. And perhaps most telling of all, it is that He is willing to extend the best name that He has to me - "Father", and call me to be a son in relationship, though I had nothing worthwhile to offer Him.

    I believe the implications of this are both significant and powerful in the struggles and challenges I face in everyday life. I believe it calls me to see, think and approach the circumstances that I face differently, because His Word is explicit that God is eager to share the power behind His name to help me through those events. Beyond that, I believe that it is a significant and powerful distinctive of the Christian faith. I do not know of any other deity that is as explicit and willing as the God of the Bible who voluntarily puts His name on the line for His people over and over again, from first book to last:

    "If my people, who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV)

    Secondly, I realized that it isn't just that He has His own names that I address Him by. In calling me to be a son in relationship, He is also able and willing to give me a name of my own, one that He has promised to reserve exclusively for me when I see Him face to face. In the book of "Revelation", the last and final book of the Bible, one of the great rewards Jesus promises those who persevere with Him to the end is a new name:

    "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will...give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it." (Revelation 2:17, ESV)

    "So what?", is among the first thoughts that spring to mind. What's the big deal in getting a new name? I'm fine with the name I've got now. I don't mind being called Kevin, or John, or Peter or whatever else it is that I got named with at birth or christening. I think I've missed the point. Although my name is Irish in origin and means "gentle, lovable", it name doesn't really describe who I am. It doesn't even tell me much about myself. For most of us, we've had to find out about ourselves the hard way - hardship, disappointment, struggle, rejection, heartbreak, introspection, therapy, counselling and a myriad of other scenarios that only provide bits and pieces of insight here and there.

    I'm not sure this is conclusive, but I believe that when God finally gives me the new name that He has promised, it will say everything about me than I could ever have pieced together from the broken perspectives that are offered to me in this life. I think it is for this reason that the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that the only one who ever really and truly knows us in entirety is God, and for the same reason that He is able to promise us a new name that only we will know - because He has known it first.

    When God revealed Himself to humanity in His utmost perfection, He introduced Himself as "Emmanuel", because it meant that He had come to be with us. If you've been seeking for someone who will know and call you as you really are, and you haven't met this God that I write about, may I encourage you to call Him by His name - Jesus? He has promised to answer those that seek Him with all their heart, and promised that He will not be far away and slow to respond.

    Call. He will answer.
    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Another Sleepless Night

    It's 2 AM and I can't sleep (again). This time, it's definitely not because I had too much strong tea before bedtime. A few hours after a Flux CM Leadership small group where we talked about worry and anxiety, I find myself deluged by the same stuff we'd vigorously discussed. Pacing my room as Tolkien scurries around the floor in oblivious and happy exploration before I put her back in her cage, I'm consumed with all manner of thoughts that seem to have erupted out of nowhere.

    Where are things headed? Will I do anything significant for God with my life? There's so much I want to pour my life into before He calls me home. Have I been a faithful son with what was entrusted to me? I'm terrified of being "the son that causes shame", that Proverbs talks about. Have I been wise in my affairs? How am I going to accomplish the dreams and calling that I feel propelled to? What if I fail and it all takes a huge nosedive? What if everything sits on the runway and never takes off? Is God happy with me? Have I disappointed Him? Why do things in life seem to be moving so slowly or at a standstill right now? I wish I could get more done, and be more effective. I wish my mind would work faster and I could learn and do more. I wish...Is God listening to this? Where are you, God? No, can't think like that. I know You're there. Can you say something?

    After all that furious thinking and feeling like my feet have been firmly planted in mid-air with no conclusion in sight, I do what I should have done much earlier. I open my Bible and start reading. Why is it that I have this tendency to open it as the last resort after going through a mental gymnastics session? "Good grief, man" I find myself thinking. "This is becoming ridiculous. We just talked about all this stuff at small group. Get yourself in line." And as my eyes fall on the words of Psalm 90, some answers slowly emerge and I'm jotting them down here.

    "Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth...from everlasting to everlasting you are God...For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night." (Ps. 90:1-2, 4, ESV)

    The transient nature of my finite existence only attains meaning in the reality of God's self existence.

    The search for my origins is pointless without a place to return to, a place to call 'home'. Without my home that I find with the person of God, it leads me to a void - where I must jump into pitch black on the other side of death, and commit my soul to the great 'Perhaps?'

    "You have set our iniquities before you; our secret sins in the light of Your presence." (Ps. 90:8 ESV)

    Any attempt to make sense of my own depravity through the construction of a moral framework will ultimately have to be done in pitch darkness without the light afforded by God's presence. It is only in the light of who He is that I can even see the mirror that shows me who I am. Without this, the "isms and schisms" that mankind constructs to hold our fragile societies together are as hollow as ourselves.

    "For all our days pass away under Your wrath. we bring our years to and end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away....So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Ps. 90:8 ESV)

    Contrary to all secular human logic, the search for wisdom for now and forever is fruitful only when I am cognizant of my fleeting life in the presence of an everlasting God.

    "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." (Ps. 90:14 ESV)

    His 'hesed' is all I need to find my peace and satisfaction every morning.

    And with that, I'm happy again and find the peace that passes all understanding. Tolkien scurries under my chair, brushing by my foot and stopping to look up at me on her way to explore the area under my study table. Time to put her back in her cage. I can go to sleep now. Good night.

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Withstanding God's Tests For The Sake Of The Name

    This post and its title is the result of an amalgamation of two different sermons delivered seven years apart by two different pastors at Willingdon, my home church. In early 2004, Dr. John Neufeld gave a brilliant sermon titled "Withstanding God's Tests", during a series in Genesis on the life of Abraham. That sermon is so compelling that I've played and replayed it more than 15 times now since listening to it earlier this year. Late last month, Dr. Daryl Kroeker titled his sermon "For The Sake of The Name", based on verses 7 and 8 of the third letter of John. For some reason, events worked out in such a manner that dots I couldn't (and didn't) connect before fell into alignment and led me to one of those moments where I wished I'd learned this earlier.

    Covering the twenty-second chapter of the book of Genesis, "Withstanding God's Tests" took a hard look at God's test of Abraham in asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Using passages like James 1:2-4, 12, Hebrews 12:7-11, 11:17-19, Proverbs 9:10, 10:27, 14:27, 19:23 and Exodus 20:20 in a way I'd never heard it exposited before. I doubt if John Neufeld could have used a better attention-grabbing line than his apocalyptic opening statement, which he repeated for added emphasis - "God is determined to test you!" I also doubt if he needed anything to keep me riveted for the remaining half-hour than the follow-up question a little while later - "So, here's the question - how do you pass God's tests?". The important points that he proceeded to lay out for the rest of the sermon attempted to answer three main questions:

    - How do we identify the testing of God?
    - How do we respond when God tests us?
    - What is God hoping to accomplish by putting people to the test?

    Answering the first question, Pastor John pointed out three main things that God is looking for from someone He puts to the test - obedience, meditation and faith. Similarly, he also explained that God puts someone through tests for specific outcomes - that they might fear Him, count on His provision and rest in His promise. Rather than explaining the sermon, I thought I'd put down some of the interesting quotes I liked during the talk:

    "See, Abraham is always the Great Negotiator with God, always carrying on with these things, but this time the Great Negotiator is silent; not one word is delay, no argument, no anger, just simple obedience...the great story of Abraham is that this man passed the test because he was not negotiating, he was not complaining that God was unjust. He was obedient."

    "...and there the old man walks for three days and he remembers what God has said, and the question he must have asked himself is this - 'Is it possible that this promise could fail?' Because if God would fail, then what would be left?"

    " see, the world that Abraham lived in, the imagination that Abraham had of his world, was the imagination of a God-bathed world; a world in which things don't happen by accident, and they are never out of the design of God. A world in which God can always be counted upon and trusted. It was in the walking, it was in those three days of silence, that Abraham made up his mind - it was not possible to come down that hill without his son...Abraham has come to the conclusion that if Isaac dies on the altar, then the universe as now exists would cease to be, because He who holds it together is Himself cursed"

    "God wants from you three things. He wants first of all a man or woman who says 'yes' to Him at every point in time; to obey God regardless of the cost, knowing that obedience always comes with a great personal price."

    "God wants you to be a meditator; God wants you to think about a world that is bathed with Him. Some of us still allow these words like 'accidental' or 'lucky' or such things to slip out of our mouths, when in fact this is a world controlled by the sovreign hand and plan of God. Nothing is out of order."

    "One of the reasons why in North America we lack often wisdom in life is because for the North American Church so many of us have become comfortable with a buddy-buddy relationship with God."

    "You know what happens when you sign a contract? You're swearing by yourself. But as you know that, it's only as good as your own reputation and character...but there is nothing greater for God to swear by than Himself; places His own character behind it. 'I swear by myself, that I will keep every promise that I have every made to you."

    "Which life do you want? Do you want the ordinary life, or do you want the life of God? And if you want the life of God He will lead you on a wild adventure of faith, and God will test you like the Harley engineers tested their bike and in the end God will make you complete and lacking in nothing."

    And to top it all off, Pastor John read quoted the same poem that I found inspiring and posted more than a year ago, titled "When God Wants To Drill A Man", which you can see here. I love this poem!

    Similarly, Dr. Daryl asked the question, "For the sake of what name?" in his own sermon outline, seven years later. He pointed out that The Name of God that Christians recognize and worship is exclusive (John 14:6; Romans 1:18; Acts 4:12), powerful (Acts 10:43; John 20:31), global (Philippians 2:8-11) and inclusive (Romans 10:13) in nature.

    You can listen to both these brilliant talks at the Willingdon Sermon Archive [1].

    So how do these independent sermons line up for me?

    I had never fully comprehended what the painful, difficult and disappointing moments in my life were about, finding myself struggling to gain and adopt the right perspective; trying to stay afloat while splashing about in various moments of heartbreaking reality that seemed to have crept up on me like a perfect storm. I remember in earlier years desperately running from parent, to pastor, to priest, to well-meaning believer, pillar to post looking for answers to painful questions Time and again, I seemed to be met with answers that ran along the lines of "Don't worry. Remember Romans 8:28? God is working all things for your good! Smile!" That these meant well and were well-intentioned I have no doubt; however, I am in no less doubt that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, as the famous saying goes.

    I don't know if it is conclusive at this point, but I have come to believe that understanding the importance of The Name and why everything is designed "For The Sake of The Name", helps me adopt the right posture of my heart during those times when it seems that I am in that painful space between God's mighty hammer and anvil. Why is The Name important to me?

    The Name of El is important; seeing The Powerful God,
    I know my fragility
    The Name of El Echad is important; in The One God
    I find unity in diversity
    The Name of El Hanne'eman is important; The Faithful God
    shows me my own faithlessness
    The Name of El Emet is important; The Truthful God
    shows me the liar that I am
    The Name of El Tsaddik is important; The Righteous God
    shows me my own deceitful heart
    The Name of El Olam is important; in the Eternal God
    I see my own transience
    The Name of El Shaddai is important; God is All-Sufficient,
    and I am undependable
    The Name of El Elyon is important; in front of The Majestic God
    I see my own lowliness
    The Name of El Roi is important; The All-Seeing God
    shows me that I cannot hide
    The Name of El Yeshurun is important; without Him
    I have no redemption
    The Name of El Gibbor is important; without The Warrior God
    I have no victory
    The Name of El De'ot is important; The God of Knowledge
    shows me I am a fool without Him
    The Name of El Haggadol is important; The Great God
    reminds me I am nothing in front of Him
    The Name of El Haggavod is important; The God of Glory
    shows me that my own glory is meaningless
    The Name of El Haggadosh is important; The Holy God
    shows me that He is forever separate
    The Name of El Hashamayim is important; The God of the Heavens
    rules over everything, including me
    The Name of El Chaiyai is important; without The God of my Life
    I have no life at all
    The Name of El Channun is important; The God of Grace
    shows me my own ungraciousness
    The Name of El Sali is important; without The God of my Strength
    I falter so easily
    The Name of El Rachum is important; The Compassionate God
    shows me that I'm such an indifferent man
    The Name of El malei Rachamim is important;
    I have been unmerciful without The Merciful God
    The Name of El Yeshuati is important;
    without The God of my Salvation I have no escape
    The Name of El-Kanno is important; The Jealous God
    is the only one who watches over me
    The Name of Immanuel is important;
    without The God Who Is With Us, I'm lonely
    The Name of El Hannora is important;
    I have nothing to show-off in front of The Awesome God

    In his groundbreaking book "Desiring God" [2], John Piper makes the point that at God does everything for the assurance of His own praise and glory from all His creatures, because He is the centerpiece of everything and it is all about Him. Knowing all this, my perspective on the events of my life where things don't make sense has undergone a tremendous shift. They become times when I go to a place in my mind that no one knows of and none have been, where the gates are shut and the doors of the Great Hall are closed, and I bow in silent worship at the throne of The Name That Is Above Every Name, the Kyrios, and Adonai.

    In his sermon series on the book of Habbakuk earlier this year, Pastor John pointed out that there is a time when all conversation must cease, where there are no questions to be asked of God, and the only appropriate response is worship. The alabaster jar of the heart is broken, and everything within poured out on the feet of El for the sake of The Name. For the sake of The Name. That is what matters. For the sake of my Father's Name. For the sake of His glory.

    It is worth withstanding God's tests for the sake of The Name.

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    [2] Piper, J., “Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist,” Oregon: Multnomah, 1986